“It’s hard to find someone whose life is not touched by cancer,” notes Donnie Duncan, event chairperson for the Relay for Life held this past weekend at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.

“Everyone knows at least one person, a friend or relative, with cancer,” Duncan said. “But today there’s lots of good news about cancer. People can fight and win the battle, and there are hundreds of free services available to those dealing with cancer. There’s cause to celebrate. That’s what Relay for Life is all about.”

During a pre-event reception Friday night, Bob Logan, relay manager for the American Cancer Society in Siskiyou County, spoke to more than 100 participants gathered to register for the Relay or to pick up survivor shirts and 2010 medallions. Logan, an 18 year veteran in the cancer war, moved the crowd to cheers and tears.

“We are winning the war against cancer! There are more and more survivors,”?he said. “So many, in fact, that the American Cancer Society has become the official sponsor of Birthdays. Until the late ’90s, when you were told you had cancer, you’d gotten a death sentence. But not today!

“In California, cancer is now down 14%. By 2015, the ACS’s goal is to get that rate down by 50%. With monies raised for research by Relays, we can do that.

“Sometimes people ask why the Relay is a 24-hour event, but all of us know why – cancer is a 24-hour disease.

“Remember: 24-hour-a-day-help is available. If you’re newly diagnosed and have questions, if you’re awake at 1:00 in the morning and can’t talk to your doctor, if you’re a friend or relative and are afraid, lonely – no matter what, if you need someone, all you have to do is reach out. Call 1-800-227-2345. An oncology nurse and volunteers who care are there for you 24/7!”

First time survivors and veterans

Those attending the pre-event reception were a mixture of Relay veterans and first-timers.

Says survivor Robert Mudd, “This is our second event.” Jarmin, his wife of 53 years, said, “The Survivors’ Lap means a lot. I cried.”  

George Winkelman, diagnosed with melanoma in 1979, has walked the Relay since 2003, when COS became its host. “I’m walking this year to support my daughter-in-law, Teresa.”

“This is my first one as a survivor,” says Therese Styers. “I was asked to be on a team before I knew I had cancer, and I’m excited to be here. I come now to support those who have cancer, to fight for myself and share stories of hope and vision. I just love all those who support us.”

Relay for Life Teams play an enormous role in the fight against cancer. This year 19 teams gathered to raise money and to provide support for their friends and family members. Sponsors also play an invaluable role.

“Siskiyou County sponsors are dynamite,”?said Logan. “Scott Valley Bank, Fairchild Medical Center, Cross Petroleum and 21st Century Oncology provide for all our needs during the Relay and throughout the year.”

By 9 a.m. Saturday nearly 300 had gathered for the 10 a.m. opening ceremonies. After survivor Gail Trumble’s moving speech, survivors gathered beneath a purple and white balloon arch to begin the Survivor Lap.

One-year survivors stood at the forefront; those with increasing years, up to 31, followed. Before the walk began, those in front were asked to turn back to see those with more years. After the lap, many survivors and caregivers dubbed that moment the most powerful of the event. “It’s empowering to actually see others who are making it. It gave me incredible hope,” said caregiver Amber Middleton.

Nine year old Ashley’s story

All survivor stories are inspirational, but perhaps none more so than that of 9 year old Ashley Covey, who carried the Survivor Banner around the first lap.

In 2008, Ashley was diagnosed with a rare case of liver cancer. Her parents were told there was no hope for their daughter, but refused to accept that diagnosis. After months of searching, they found a doctor who promised he could completely remove her cancerous tumor.

In August, 2009, Ashley underwent surgery and now claims almost a year cancer-free. Relay for Life helped the American Cancer Society support the Coveys in their battle.

Relay for Life is a life-changing community event. For the past 11 years, Siskiyou County residents have celebrated the lives of those battling cancer, remembered loved ones lost to the disease, and rallied to fight back against it.

Best family reunion possible

Says Janyth Bolden, aka “Relay Queen of the Night,” entertainment coordinator for the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, “No person does this by themselves. The Relay is the best family reunion possible. We hang out, we have fun and we work.”